Of Faith and Mercy

Text: Matthew 8:1-13

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been thinking about how in the Epiphany season we confess that Jesus, the Son of Man, is also the Son of God. We witnessed this in the visit of the wise men. We heard the God the Father proclaim from heaven that Jesus is His beloved Son, with whom He is pleased. Last week, St. John wrote about the beginning of Jesus’ miracles – changing water in wine at a wedding in Cana. Jesus manifested His glory there and as a result, St. John said, “His disciples believed in Him.”

After the changing of water into wine, Jesus performed many miracles. Sts. Matthew and Mark both report that Jesus travelled throughout all Galilee preaching and teaching in the synagogues and healing “every disease and affliction among the people.” The result of that, as you would expect, was that word of Jesus traveled. It traveled and was believed by many – even by those you might not expect. In our text today we hear of two people who demonstrate great faith in Jesus, a leper and a Roman centurion. They believed in Jesus’ Word and trusted in Him above all things. Jesus, in His great mercy, stretched forth His hand of healing. We should pray to the Holy Spirit that our faith would be like these two men, even as the hand of our Lord extends to us, as well.

I.

As we said, word of Jesus – reports of His preaching, teaching, and miracles – spread. It spread such that people from all over the place – from Syria, Galilee and the 10 Cities, Jerusalem and Judea, and places beyond the Jordan – believed in Jesus and followed Him. Our text today comes just after Jesus finished teaching these followers in the Sermon on the Mount. St. Matthew wrote, “When He came down from the mountain, great crowds followed Him. And behold, a leper came to Him and knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.’” There are any number of things that can jump out to us in this text; let’s consider just a few.

Perhaps you might remember from your lessons that, in Bible times, leprosy was not a good thing to have. It was not good for its effects on your body, but maybe more so, its effects on your life. If you had leprosy, you had to go off and live by yourself in seclusion. If anyone ever came near you, you were supposed to shout to them that you were a leper and to keep their distance. In return, people did keep their distance from you. They didn’t talk to you, they certainly didn’t touch you. The man in our text did not keep his distance, he ran up to Jesus and knelt before Him. And, really, he offered Him a prayer: “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.”

Now, at this, Jesus would have been within every societal norm to recoil in horror, to run from or even spit at this guy. But, He didn’t, did He? St. Matthew writes, “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’” And he was. Immediately the leprosy was cleansed. Jesus did not turn away from this man’s condition, nor his spiritual condition of sin, but instead had mercy. Jesus had compassion and touched the leper. And, with that touch, he was healed.

As Jesus went on from there and came into Capernaum, a centurion met Him. Centurion means that this man was a Roman military officer in charge of 80-100 men. In his account, St. Luke tells us this Gentile had previously converted to Judaism, but had now been brought to believe in Jesus. He had heard the reports of Jesus’ healings and so implored Him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” Jesus offered to come to the centurion’s house and heal – a truly bold step, considering this man was a Gentile Roman. He responded that he wasn’t worthy to have the Lord come into his house; if only Jesus spoke the word, his servant would be healed. The centurion recognized he had authority to tell soldiers to do something and they did. So, Jesus, over this illness. Jesus marveled over this outstanding confession of faith. He said, “‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed at that very moment.”

II

There are so many things that we can learn from this text. We should learn from the leper and centurion about how they trusted in the Lord above all things. The leper trusted His good will and the centurion Jesus’ good Word. Notice the leper’s prayer. “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.” There’s two things in there. First, the leper believed that Jesus is able to heal his leprosy, because He is the Lord. Second, the leper trusted in the Lord’s will. If it was Jesus’ will to heal him, He would; if not, do you think that leper then would’ve stopped believing? I don’t think so. He would’ve just known that the Lord’s healing would come later.

The centurion also believed in Jesus’ power to heal and save. But, when Jesus offered to come to his house, he recognized his unworthiness for such a visit. In one of our communion hymns we sing these words, “I do not merit favor, Lord, my weight of sin would break me; in all my guilty heart’s discord, O Lord, do not forsake me. In my distress this comforts me that You receive me graciously, O Christ, my Lord of mercy.” This was the centurion’s confession as well. Because of our sin, we are unworthy and do not deserve anything from God. Yet, the centurion trusted in Christ’s Word. He was not worthy, but if Christ only spoke the Word, his servant would be healed. And so, he was.

Like the leper and the centurion, we come before God with nothing. There is nothing in us but shame and degradation, for we bear in ourselves the spiritual leprosy of sin. It spreads through all our members, and we have used them as instruments of iniquity and not for the glory of God. We, like the centurion, were born as children of wrath and unbelievers in God’s promises. But, as Christ did to the leper and centurion, He has done to us. He has stretched forth to us His hand and Word. He did not recoil from the depths of our sin and shame but took on our flesh, all the same. He took our sins, which break us, upon Himself. He made payment in blood so that we might be made right with God.

According to His good will He has sent unto us also His saving Word. Through His Word the Holy Spirit has called us to faith in Christ so that we might receive – by faith – the good things He earned: forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. In His same good will, Christ also extends to us His hand in the form of His Holy Supper. In the Lord’s Supper, the same flesh which was crucified and which rose for us is given to us in the sacramental union of His body and blood with the bread and wine. He gives these things so that we receive, often, the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith.

In the Epiphany season, again, we confess that Jesus the true man is also the true God. As He stretched out His hand to heal the leper and spoke His Word on behalf of the centurion’s servant, so He gives us His hand and Word for the forgiveness of our sins. May God the Holy Spirit grant us also a faith like the leper and centurion, that we likewise trust in His good will and Word.

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